One year ago, buildings collapsed, towns turned into piles of debris, and thousands of lives were lost.
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the March 11th earthquake.
I watched a TV documentary of that day, which mainly consisted of footage taken by victims of the earthquake. It was in chronological order, and there were clips taken by all sorts of people, from professional videographers to teens. Some of them were recorded using high definition cameras, others with cell phones. The thing that they all had in common was that every video recorded the horrors of that day.
One of them captured the moment of a ceiling collapsing, while another gave an insight on the tension that was building as the tsunami warning was released.
There was a certain video that rendered me speechless. It was taken by a man that had reached the top floor of a high building. The video showed people running for their lives down below, as the tsunami grew closer and closer to them. One woman seemed to be a little behind the others. The tsunami was literally on her heels. Then, someone screamed, and she was swallowed by the waves.
The woman in the video most likely did not survive. The same can probably be said for many others that were caught on tape.
At a time like this, a single mistake can decide the fate of a person, whether they live or die.
I happened to experience that very same earthquake, though at a much smaller level. At 2:46 PM, I was riding a train, on my way home from school. Class had ended a little early because we had a whole week of end-of-the-year exams. I was chatting along with a few friends when the train started to tremble. The movements were so subtle that I thought there was some trouble with the engine. The train didn’t slow down.
The trembling gradually changed into more of a swaying, and at this point almost everyone in the train including me had realized that this was an earthquake. But earthquakes are common in Japan. Nobody was expecting anything.
Then things started to get worse. The swaying turned into a shaking, which became more vigorous by the second. We heard the sound of the train braking. The windows rattled like mad, and the lights turned off. The doors automatically opened without warning, as if telling us wordlessly to GET OUT.
So we did, leaving our backpacks on the train. (We just happened to stop at a station, not in the middle of nowhere)
I quickly found out that the epicenter of the quake was off the shores of Miyagi prefecture. The station announcement told me that every train in Tokyo has suspended operation, and will continue to do so for the whole day. There was no possible way that I could get home.
Luckily, my friend let me stay over at his house in Urayasu, Chiba. And luckily, we happened to be at the station nearest to his house.
Now, Urayasu is an artificially made strip of land, so it is very prone to earthquakes. I really felt that when I stepped out of the station. The whole area was a mess. Soil liquefaction had left cracks in the ground, from which seawater and sand was spurting out. Mud was everywhere and it was hindering traffic. Taxis like the one below were stuck in the mud. Literally.
We had to make so many detours that it took us a whole hour to reach his house when normally it would take 20 minutes.
I was even more shaken by tsunami footage on the TV when we finally arrived. Things started to sink in and I was able to get the big picture. It was very, VERY shocking.
The gas lines had been cut off, so our dinner consisted of things that could be eaten cold. I was grateful even for that. What would I have done if my friend hadn’t been there with me? Then I would be truly alone, and I would either have had to walk home (which would take hours), or camp out at a facility accepting commuters unable to do so.
While I was fretting over how not to get my shoes muddy, people up in Miyagi and Iwate prefecture were losing their lives. While I was looking at videos of whole towns being destroyed by tsunamis, there were people that had gotten swallowed by them.
The most important thing to do right now is to not forget. Remember the fear, the sadness, the horror of having your house washed away with the blink of the eye. We can use the lessons we have learned from this event if something similar happens in the near future.
Memories fade away. That’s how the human brain works. I guess that’s the reason why so many people took videos that day, even when their lives were in danger. They did it so we would not forget.
Soon, the “Tohoku Earthquake” will become a thing of the past for people worldwide. Look at what happened to Haiti. It’s only been 2 years since a Magnitude 7.0 quake struck the country. For a while, it was all over the news. Now it’s fading from people’s minds, yet there are thousands of people still without homes.
Do not forget.
That’s the one message I have for everybody here. Remember that day, so that we can pass the memories onto future generations. That way, less lives will be lost if the same thing ever happens again.
All of these thoughts raced through my mind yesterday as I dropped a coin into the donation box, on my way to school.